Being unequally yoked in the contemporary biblical sense means your marriage and relationship is doomed for disaster. It’s a catchy truism because it is true.
The origin of this epithet is commonly thought to be the Christian bible, with one of the oldest surviving recorded references to this unequal yoking business going all the way back to Papyrus 46 from approximately 175AD.
But the bible doesn’t have the monopoly over the idea, even if it has monopolized the phrase over the centuries. Unequal yoking is rooted in the rise of agrarian societies about 10 000 years ago. Farming was a relatively new idea then, like the wheel, and our ancestors then were amateurs at pretty much everything.
People had to be told not to yoke strong animals [like an ox, say] with smaller, weaker beasts of burdens [like donkeys]. Over time these prescripts achieved a symbolic importance, and went from applying to effective farm animal management to marriage advice.
The reasoning was sound: having a strong person [such as someone with a strong faith in God] married to a weak person [an unbeliever] was likely to cause your relationship to go around in circles, and potentially unravel completely.
While one can debate whether believers or unbelievers are stronger or weaker relative to one another, what’s clear is the principle itself is sound: people who are strikingly different to one another, especially in their beliefs and orientations, aren’t likely to maintain strong relationships. Happy with that?
Intuitively it’s clear Shan’ann and Chris Watts weren’t equally yoked. Given what happened to this family, someone was pulling a heavier load. Someone found the burden they were carrying unfair.
In reality, when animals pulling a plough are unequally yoked, everyone is worse off. The stronger animal finds the yoke constantly chafing at its neck no matter how halting its pace. The stronger animal finds its time is being wasted, and its energy squandered as it waits in the field, the sunning burning a hole on its back, as it waits for its partner to catch up.
The weaker animal is always being prodded, pulled and pressured to exceed it’s own boundaries. And the farm, and the farmer suffers as a result of this mismatch.
In the Watts case, we have some idea now that issues of interiority were at play, and we have some idea they had something to do with the obvious stuff that impacts all relationships: financial pressures, work life, home life, family dynamics etc.
By applying Symbolic Specificity to our interrogation, we get a lot closer to the operative psychology in the Watts case. So let’s do that. How did unequal yoking affect the MLM side of things? Was sexuality or sexual orientation relevant? How about temperament? Finances? What impact does an affair have on how one is yoked inside a marriage?
Let’s examine each of these now one by one, using the implement of unequal yoking as a guide and a benchmark.
1. Le-Vel vs Andarko
Just looking at the optics, Le-Vel feels like a vibrant, colorfully branded, socially active party. There are exotic trips, cakes and chocolates, luxury cars, and the convenience and fun [supposedly] of making hay from home, building your business empire one Facebook Live video at a time.
Anadarko on the other hand, feels gritty and dirty. It involves physical work, outdoors, with hazardous chemicals, dust, grease and grime. It’s not colorful work unless one counts oil and rust as colors. It’s not social either, unless one considers a screwdriver, rigs, nuts and bolts as companions. Unlike the relative variety at Le-Vel, an operator;s work is stock standard. It’s the same deal, the same equipment, every day. It’s get the oil to where it needs to go.
What we can say with some confidence then is that the stay-at-home job is quite cushy, even easy compared to the up-at-dawn siege that is plying one’s living as an entry-level operator in the oil business.
In the work sense, in terms of what they did each day, were Shan’ann and Chris Watts a little unequally yoked, or a lot?
Shan’ann appears to have evolved from her high school days, to a shy, awkward and picked-on kid to an attractive go-getter who got herself a house by age 25, and three children, in spite of her “health challenges” with lupus.
In 2018 her temperament seems to have gone from being relatively withdrawn to unfailingly gung ho about “Thrivin'”and even pushy. It’s fair to say then, that Shan’ann’s temperament transformed a great deal during their marriage. Thrive was making her more and more of an extrovert, and perhaps less and less of the woman Chris Watts thought he married.
Chris Watts, on the other hand, seems to have remained “straight as an arrow” as a former college friend described him on HLN. Even during his marriage, Shan’ann describes him as an introvert, and in her videos, he’s always in the background and never says much.
Shan’ann’s social media compared to Chris Watts’ social media is like chalk and cheese. One might argue this stands to reason, because she had to active on social media. True, but Chris Watts was also signed up to Le-Vel. In more ways than one he appeared to be a “silent partner” in the way they were yoked to Le-Vel.
The most we see of Chris Watts unfiltered, isn’t anywhere on Facebook, it’s his notorious Sermon on the Porch. In that moment he doesn’t appear to be particularly introverted, but that seems to be an act for the cameras, borne out later by how poorly the public decided he’d accounted for himself. By contrast, Scott Peterson was a better and more charming liar.
In the temperamental sense, and this is really only limited to her growing extroversion versus his ongoing introversion, were Shan’ann and Chris Watts a little unequally yoked, or a lot?
This remains a critically important area, but still a known unknown. We know how precarious their finances were in 2015, and that then Chris Watts was carrying by far the bulk of the financial burden, despite the acquisition of an expensive house and new babies on the way.
According to the Denver Post:
The Wattses appeared to be going through a rocky period when they moved from North Carolina to Colorado in 2012. Bankruptcy records describe a series of financial setbacks.
Byron Falls, who bought Shanann’s house in Belmont, N.C., west of Charlotte, said Thursday the Watts family had been in a hurry to sell and left behind the furniture as part of the sale.
The Wattses filed for bankruptcy two years after moving into their five-bedroom, 4,177-square-foot home at 2825 Saratoga Trail in Frederick. They paid $399,000 for the home, according to public records.
The list of creditors included Ford Motor Company and Toys “R” Us. Their list of assets included their home valued at $400,000, a 2006 Ford Mustang with more than 97,000 miles on it, wedding rings and a dog, which they valued at $5. In one filing from June 2015, the couple reported that they had $9.51 in their savings accounts and about $860 in their checking account.
Their debts included $11,245 in student loans, according to Denver U.S. Bankruptcy Court records. Choice Recovery in Columbus, Ohio, was seeking to recover $740 for health and chiropractic services.
Is it likely the finances had improved or worsened after three years, and after Shan’ann’s “success” as a MLM promoter? If the finances had worsened, then someone was either a little more unequally yoked, or a lot – who do you think that might be?
4. The Yoke of Another Pregnancy
One has the impression from Shan’ann that she thought she couldn’t and wouldn’t ever have children, because of her health challenges. That’s one thing, but what if her husband thought the same thing? What if he got married assuming there wouldn’t be any kids?
Did he have any say in the conception of his third child? In Shan’ann’s pregnancy video he appears to be happy initially, but a moment later, when he steps back and asks, “So pink means…it’s gonna be girls…” he surprise seems darker and more burdened.
Off camera Shan’ann’s voice sounds clipped, as if she’s putting him on the spot. Well, isn’t she?
Does a pregnancy [in this case a third child on the way] add to the level of burden in a family that’s already burdened, already unequally yoked, or subtract from it? This is an interesting question, because for one spouse there may be the idea that the burden will be lessened – on them. What about the other?
5. Game vs No Game
When Shan’ann told her friend and colleague Amanda Thayer that Chris had “no game”, she meant in the romantic sense. When Thayer remarked on this, sitting beside her own husband, she laughs derisively.
Whether Shan’ann is correct or not is less relevant than the inference. According to Shan’ann, she had game [her Thrive spiels are endlessly about her gameness] and he didn’t.
What is it like to hear that though? If you’re the donkey in the equation, what’s it like to be stepped on, squeezed and dragged along by the ox. Not only that, to have the pace set for you while being nagged, dismissed and undermined throughout.
6. Good Looks
If Chris Watts’ personality hadn’t changed much since high school, his appearance had. During his Sermon on the Porch he presented himself as a neat, well-groomed, all-round nice guy. Although this wasn’t different from his performances as a family extra in Shan’ann’s Facebook Live videos, what was different over the years was the grooming.
Watts’ weight loss was significant – 44 pounds [20 kilograms] – in a few months. Although Shan’ann had also lost weight and transformed her appearance somewhat, his game in the weight loss and fitness area was clearly ahead of hers.
Besides this, just as he was reaching peak fitness, actively working out at home, doing outdoor and physical work for Anadarko, and also jogging every day, she was pregnant and putting on weight by day. As he was becoming more physical active and physically attractive, she was becoming less active due to the pregnancy.
Putting that dynamic into the joke, suddenly we see him edging ahead of her in the key area that matters for a beast of burden – actual labor in the field. #tcrc
Just as the Watts finances are a known unknown, so is Chris Watts’ sexuality. Is he bisexual?
If he is, or if his sexual appetite is different to Shan’ann’s, then this too would have an impact on the yoking equation. Seen literally, imagine if a yoked donkey is horny, and sees another donkey wandering by on the edge of the field [male maybe, maybe female, who knows] and then tries to head off in that direction?
Does that have a small or massive impact on the yoking situation in a marriage?
8. An Affair
You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. That’s a derivative of the unequally yoked bible version. It tends to be true relative to your point of view. If the other person is the dog or the bitch, then you’re the one that’s right in the yoking equation, not so? The problem is, everyone is going to see themselves as right and their partner as possibly not right enough, especially when the shit hits the fan.
And shit did hit the fan.
We don’t have to know precisely what Chris Watts’ sexual proclivities were. Irrespective of his sexual preferences, the fact that he was actively involved in at least one affair while getting his wife pregnant, suggests his sexual appetite was significant. Significant enough to be a factor in the yoking equation, certainly.
There are some suggestions that Watts had an animalistic approach to sex. Although an anonymous source quoted by Radar online is hardly credible at this stage, the notion seems to fit in with the very hands-on and physical side of Chris Watts and his work.
One can imagine there would be pent up aggression merely in the aspect that he was a bottom-dweller in the career sense, and in terms of his relatively low income compared to their large home and lifestyle.
Does an affair shift the yoking dynamic in a marriage? it’s perhaps the most fundamental symptoms of a couple who are unequally yoked – the third party draws the one constantly away from the other, creating a chafing tension that can become excruciating, criminal, sometimes even homicidal.
9. His House?
In whose name was the house in Saratoga Trail? This is arguably the most important question surrounding this case – it attends to the crucial interiority, it also answers the question [potentially] of what the prize was behind committing the crime.
If both of them shared ownership of the largest and most valuable asset, then unequal yoking still comes into play in terms of their respective income/debt burdens. The stereotype MLM scenario suggests Shan’ann was not unable to meet her financial obligations. If true, then despite all appearances to the contrary, financially speaking he was the ox in the ox-donkey yoking equation, not Shan’ann.
Since we already know the Wattses were in trouble with the Wyndham Hill Master Association, there was clearly the threat that they could lose their home. Now imagine if one spouse begins to blame the other for something as significant as causing them to lose their home.
Whatever the truth of this matter, the burden of the yoke that had the Watts’ family in its grip, the weight of it, was directly related to the enormous debt burden the one or both of them faced.
Living beyond one’s means does that to a yoke, it makes a yoke unbearable beyond one’s means.
10. Her Health
Perhaps the greatest yoke of all was the one only Shan’ann was burdened with. What’s a greater burden, a heavier load on a young mother’s shoulders than a chronic and systemic autoimmune disease?
In upcoming TWO FACE narratives I explore the health dimension in more detail. For now, it suffices to note that by placing this aspect in the ox/donkey scenario, no matter which animal is bigger or stronger, having one of them fatally undermined by a serious disease is going to have a huge impact of the suffering of both animals.
If they’re already unequally yoked, and we know they were, then Shan’ann’s sickness was a major factor preventing her from being able to pull her end of the plough through their respective fields of dreams.
In the Watts family, the believer might represent the economically viable spouse, and the unbeliever, the one trying to do a con job on her success. The irony is how this arrangement is inverted by true crime.
Now we are the believers or unbelievers of whatever Watts says about himself, and his marriage, and we are the believers or unbelievers of whether Shan’ann’s world was as Thrivin’ as she claimed.
We do true crime a disservice if we apply our minds to just one side of the yoking equation. Can you see that? We have to know both sides to know how each experienced the other. That’s the true part of true crime, and to get to meaningful answers, we have to have the courage to ask tough questions about the murderer and his victims. As long as we do so with humanity, humility and compassion, the real truth will out.